The Green Flag and Other Tales HTML version

The New Catacomb
"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, "I do wish that you would confide in me."
The two famous students of Roman remains sat together in Kennedy's comfortable room
overlooking the Corso. The night was cold, and they had both pulled up their chairs to the
unsatisfactory Italian stove which threw out a zone of stuffiness rather than of warmth.
Outside under the bright winter stars lay the modern Rome, the long, double chain of the
electric lamps, the brilliantly lighted _cafes_, the rushing carriages, and the dense throng
upon the footpaths. But inside, in the sumptuous chamber of the rich young English
archaeologist, there was only old Rome to be seen. Cracked and time-worn friezes hung
upon the walls, grey old busts of senators and soldiers with their fighting heads and their
hard, cruel faces peered out from the corners. On the centre table, amidst a litter of
inscriptions, fragments, and ornaments, there stood the famous reconstruction by
Kennedy of the Baths of Caracalla, which excited such interest and admiration when it
was exhibited in Berlin.
Amphorae hung from the ceiling, and a litter of curiosities strewed the rich red Turkey
carpet. And of them all there was not one which was not of the most unimpeachable
authenticity, and of the utmost rarity and value; for Kennedy, though little more than
thirty, had a European reputation in this particular branch of research, and was, moreover,
provided with that long purse which either proves to be a fatal handicap to the student's
energies, or, if his mind is still true to its purpose, gives him an enormous advantage in
the race for fame. Kennedy had often been seduced by whim and pleasure from his
studies, but his mind was an incisive one, capable of long and concentrated efforts which
ended in sharp reactions of sensuous languor. His handsome face, with its high, white
forehead, its aggressive nose, and its somewhat loose and sensuous mouth, was a fair
index of the compromise between strength and weakness in his nature.
Of a very different type was his companion, Julius Burger. He came of a curious blend, a
German father and an Italian mother, with the robust qualities of the North mingling
strangely with the softer graces of the South. Blue Teutonic eyes lightened his sun-
browned face, and above them rose a square, massive forehead, with a fringe of close
yellow curls lying round it. His strong, firm jaw was clean-shaven, and his companion
had frequently remarked how much it suggested those old Roman busts which peered out
from the shadows in the corners of his chamber. Under its bluff German strength there
lay always a suggestion of Italian subtlety, but the smile was so honest, and the eyes so
frank, that one understood that this was only an indication of his ancestry, with no actual
bearing upon his character.
In age and in reputation he was on the same level as his English companion, but his life
and his work had both been far more arduous. Twelve years before he had come as a poor
student to Rome, and had lived ever since upon some small endowment for research
which had been awarded to him by the University of Bonn.